Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mortlock, by Jon Mayhew

Published in hardback by Bloomsbury, 2010

Mortlock opens with three explorers – Mortlock, Chrimes and Corvis – in an Abyssian jungle, on a quest to find the amaranth flower. The amaranth is the key to eternal life and has the power to raise the dead. Bruised and battered, they eventually find it but its power frightens them and leads them to make a vow: leave it where it is, and tell no one of its whereabouts.
Three decades later and we cut to Josie, a knife-thrower in magician The Great Cardamom’s stage act. We also meet a boy called Alfie, who is an undertaker’s assistant. The two discover they are twins and find themselves caught up in the mystery of the Amaranth and all the grisly havoc it wreaks – including the living dead, the death of loved ones, three terrible aunts who take the form of crows, the evil intentions of the now deformed Corvis and an encounter with a ghastly circus out in the swamp.
Mortlock is a great read. The thing I enjoyed most about it is that it doesn’t demean its intended audience – this is gothic horror for kids, and you know it from the get go. There are many gruesome deaths and macabre scenes and evil intentions directed towards these two kids. It is counteracted with some great scene-setting, a driving pace and some enjoyable, crazy characters – just perfect for this kind of book, and contributing just the right amount to the story.
There are a few problems. I thought the ending could have been a bit more of a grand finale – maybe a bit longer and of a larger scale to suit the scope of the story. The plot and dialogue are at times a bit predictable. I knew how the story was going to turn out long before I read the last pages. Still, it was enjoyable getting there.
As a story of adventure and terror, Mortlock ultimately succeeds. It feels and reads like what it should – a tale of gothic horror. Atmosphere pervades the big set-pieces, like the dank city streets when Josie and Alfie get chased by ghuls; the soggy, swampy marshlands home to Lorenzo’s circus; or the interior of the crow-infested Lord Corvis’ mansion.
I am almost always thoroughly impressed by the kids series Bloomsbury publishes. They are usually stories of creativity and adventure, beautifully designed and packaged and just really good fun (I highly recommend the Septimus Heap series). Mortlock is a great addition.

No comments:

Post a Comment